I own an audit company. I have been running audit teams for over twenty years all over Asia and now Europe.

But I have to admit that social compliance auditing, as we know it, does not fix the problems.

There are about 3000 ethical auditors practicing worldwide currently. We know because APSCA (www.theapsca.org) has been registering them. That means there are probably about 500,000 ethical audits being done every year. Mainly these are done in Asia although in the UK about 4000 sites were visited last year using SMETA or similar methodologies.

So have we made the world a better place yet?

As a nice lady from Oxfam pointed out to me yesterday – audits don’t work!

But we are all honourable men (and women) and so we want to know: What are we doing wrong? With all this auditing, why haven’t we fixed the issue of Labour Exploitation yet?

These are the reasons:

  • Most retailers use audits as a risk mitigating activity. Not as an improvement process or an enforcement tool.
  • Most retailers don’t commission their own audits. They will file someone else’s old audit report as proof that they have done due diligence.
  • The output from an audit report is a Corrective Action Plan but to properly implement this you need to understand the root causes of the problem and fix them. Most retailers are not interested in investing time and money to implement this next vital step. So we just keep on auditing and finding the same problems over and over again.
  • Many auditors are corrupt and demand or accept bribes to write a good audit report. This is a particular challenge when working in Asia.

Audits, if correctly used, should provide a starting point and a road map for continuous improvement and as part of a bigger scheme for change.

So how can we fix all this and make social auditing effective? How can we truly make the world a better place?

Well, you tell me …

Why audits do not work